Recommendations That Live

2 Corinthians 3:1-6 speaks to the huge investment that Paul made in the lives of large numbers of persons. There is nothing that Paul could have done to cancel the damage that was done by Saul. Here is a man who came to first mention as the man who supervised and approved the murder of the first martyr of the Church, Stephen. God’s Word appears to go out of its way to emphasize the outstanding character of Stephen and the pivotal role he played in spreading the Gospel in the early days of the Church, almost as if to make his murder even more heinous. This fact alone makes the murderer more vicious and more accountable to history. Many persons stoned Stephen, but their names were not important.   The one name that was important was that of the young man at whose feet they laid their cloaks because he was the official validator of the murder. That young man was Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul (Acts 7:58-8:1).   We learn in Acts 8:1 that the murder of Stephen triggered the wide-spread persecution of the Church, and heading that operation was a man named Saul. In fact it was as he was on the road to Damascus with letters of authority from the High Priest to persecute members of the early Church (Acts 9:1-6) that Paul was literally brought down by Jesus. And as we say, the rest is history.

Against this background, the Apostle Paul had all the necessary motivation to try to reverse his past and to try to atone for the evil he had performed against God and His people. Paul’s approach was to invest in the same thing he had tried to destroy – the Church. His motivation to build God’s Kingdom was fueled by the memory of his efforts to destroy it.

In 2 Corinthians 3:1-6, the Apostle Paul raise the question of letters of recommendation.   It was very common for itinerant speakers to walk with letters of recommendation from their last assignment to help to open future doors of opportunity. This practice is still common today.  Paul was writing to persons with whom he was familiar. But as was his practice he frequently validated his ministry by pointing to his special qualifications, while at the same time denying that he was boasting. He felt he had to compensate for the fact that he once persecuted the Church, and also for the fact that he was the only Apostle who never associated with Jesus while he was on earth. This repeated reference to his credentials could have been interpreted as a reintroduction of himself. Paul had to debunk that myth.

Paul was very familiar with letters of recommendation and had written quite a few, as is evidenced  by Romans 16:1-2; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 8:16-24; and Philippians 2:19-30, to name a few. He himself never carried any, and this in itself became a magnet for criticism by some speakers whose habit it was to pedal the Gospel for profit (2 Corinthians 2:17).  It is against this background that Paul declared that his letters of recommendation were the people to whom he ministered and into whose lives he had sown. Not only were they recommendations for any possible future assignment, but they were also like badges of honor that could be clearly seen by all. Paul was primarily a Church planter and not an itinerant preacher. He therefore had legitimate claim to the fruit of his labor and in addition gave God the glory for making it possible (2 Corinthians 3:4-5).

The takeaway is that we are called upon to make disciples of all men. It is good when we can share a tract or exchange a kind word of witness for Jesus. However, wherever possible, we should endeavor to systematically invest in the lives of others with their maturity in Christ being the end-game of our activity.

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